“Won’t they get busted?” is the most common question I get as the director when people watch the trailer or film and see how open the film’s participants are with their marijuana growing.
The short answer is “no”—or at least, “very, very unlikely”—because they’re farming within California’s medical marijuana laws, Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420.
While it is always a concern, these farmers were able to make a well-informed decision that promoting the positive values of their community and their industry far outweighed the minimal risk of legal troubles.
“What does the Sheriff think?”
The local law enforcement professionals are in a very awkward position. They are sworn to uphold laws that are universally flaunted. Many in the Humboldt and Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department “don’t give a rat’s ass”, about marijuana, as one sergeant expressed it privately to me. Others think it should be legalized and regulated, while others fully believe all the old Reefer Madness hype. No matter what they think, though, weed farming is far, far beyond anyone’s ability to effectively suppress.
The bottom line for growers is that if you follow these few simple rules, you’ll stay out of trouble: don’t piss off your neighbors; don’t piss off the cops; don’t trash the land; don’t mix it up with white powder drugs or guns; don’t export out of state and get caught. Virtually every bust you read about in the local paper is the result of violating one or more of these informal rules.
“Still, won’t the feds bust them because it’s still illegal under federal law?”
Highly doubtful. The feds generally leave small-time growers alone, whether they’re legal under state medical-use laws or not. It’s not worth limited federal law enforcement and court resources to bust someone for a joint or even 30 big plants. This is especially true when there are thousands of such growers and, more to the point, there are hundreds of giant, black-market gardens in the surrounding hills.
There are hundreds or thousands of illegal trespass grows on nearby public lands (National Forests, State Parks, etc.) or timber resource lands and these are a higher priority for all law enforcement. The DEA is generally more concerned with the tons of Emerald Triangle area pot that is sold on the interstate black market than with some ma-and-pa grower who sells to a dispensary in Oakland or L.A.
“Do these farmers support legalization?”
Yes and no and sort of.
Filming took place in 2010, when California voter were contemplating Proposition 19, a legalization measure which ultimately failed in the November election. Two of the farmers were advocating for passage of Proposition 19 and trying to organize Humboldt County growers to support it. One grudgingly supported it, saying “it’s not perfect, but it’s a start”, while the fourth farmer opposed Proposition 19.
“But, why would growers oppose legalization?”
Many growers opposed and voted against Proposition 19 while still supporting legalization, per se. Many farmers believed that Proposition 19 would have handed over their industry to big corporation. Many believed it would mandate growing marijuana in giant indoor warehouses, as the city of Oakland, CA was proposing to license in 2010. Whether this is how the law would have actually been implemented is moot, since it failed to pass.
It does, however, raise a very important point: legalization has to take into account the needs of the farmers. These are the very voices that, due to long-standing risk of prosecution and social stigmatization, have been almost completely excluded from the debate. One of my main goals as director of One Good Year is to bring some of these voices to the forefront.
“Isn’t it all about the money?”
For the sake of discussion, imagine there’s a town that is economically dependent on a large auto manufacturer. Imagine the state legislature is proposing a bill that would subsidize foreign auto imports, resulting in the town’s car factory closing down. If the workers and shop owners in that town opposed the bill, no one would call them greedy or say it’s all about the money.
In California’s rural, marijuana-producing counties, Humboldt and Mendocino in particular, marijuana puts roofs on people’s cabins, pays for new equipment for the volunteer fire departments, fixes the dirt access roads, buys new water tanks, puts food on the growers’ tables and so on, just like any job anywhere else. If legalization threatens farmers with loss of livelihood, the real question is why so many would still support it. It is a testament to so many pot farmers’ progressive values that they voted for a law that might make it harder for them to make a living.
Of course, there are greedy people getting rich off the pot business with no concern for the environment and no long-term commitment to the community. But, that’s not everyone and there is a vibrant culture that depends on this income in a place where there are no other jobs to be had.
Marijuana is virtually the only agricultural sector that is 100% small farmers, with no huge corporations controlling the growing or supply. In the pot industry, everyone involved—farmers, helpers, trimmers, distributors—makes a good living wage, something that cannot be said about any other industry, especially agricultural ones. As one of the One Good Year farmers points out, marijuana farming and trimming are some of the few ways women in a rural area can support themselves and raise a family.
It can’t be said enough: legalization has to take the farmers needs and voices into account.
“I heard legalization in California failed because Humboldt pot farmers voted it down.”
This is a rumor started by sloppy journalists and ignorant bloggers that clouds some significant issues around legalization. Though it’s not terribly relevant to the film, it seems important to present an insider’s perspective.
In 2010 California’s population was 37 million. Humboldt County had a total population of 134,000, not nearly all of whom were growers. For the sake of the math, let’s suppose every single person in Humboldt County then was a grower and every single person voted “no”. That is still only .36% (note decimal point) of the total California state population voting no. In reality, 53.5% of the state’s voters cast a “no” ballot. Humboldt County’s one-third of one percent made no difference either way, especially considering that: not everyone in Humboldt is a grower; not everyone in Humboldt votes; not everyone against legalization is a grower; and lastly, many growers don’t vote. Overall, Humboldt County voted fairly close to the statewide for/against percentages.
As some reports pointed out, in the districts where One Good Year‘s farmers live, Proposition 19 was defeated by a much higher percentage than the statewide or countywide percentages. While this had no bearing on the statewide pass/fail vote, it might be seen in a very negative light by some. I hope I’ve added some clarification to this in the discussion above. It’s less about legalization and more about how it is legalized and who benefits and who loses. If a farmer-friendly proposition is on the 2016 ballot, as many are saying will be the case, it will be interesting to see how that election goes—statewide, countywide and district-wide.
This page is a work in progress! More to be added soon. Have questions? Email them to me via the contact page.